A drive past Milton Elementary & Middle School this week revealed a drab, sodden winter environment. The trees were bare and the grass a muddy shade of brown, the air still with the promise of coming snow. But just beside the middle school entrance an unassuming plot of land showed promise for an outdoor classroom and community garden slated for spring 2019.

“It’s going to become this beautiful kind of thing that everyone can see as they’re driving by as an example of our food service program and our community,” farm-to-school coordinator Keely Agan said.

The $13,000 grant-funded garden will serve as a learning space and link between school members and the greater community, food service director Steve Marinelli said. It’s been in the works since October 2017 and has been aided by the planning and design efforts of local landscaper and MTSD alum Maxwell Curtiss, Agan said. 

The garden will be simple with benches, raised beds, a tool shed, compost bins and a rain barrel to capture stormwater for the plants. It will be constructed using natural materials to minimize its environmental impact, Marinelli said.

“We’re trying to make it as eco-friendly as possible,” he said.

The space will feature an open green area where classes can convene: “The kids get to get outside, and they see where food comes from, how it’s grown,” Agan said, adding she wants students to learn food doesn’t just come from the supermarket: It’s raised from seed to plant with care and time.

The space will lend itself to a varying curriculum. Agan envisions students getting hands-on lessons about measuring square footage, tracking germination, writing nature-inspired poetry and learning how Native Americans relied on gardens for sustenance. “You can really incorporate any curriculum into a garden, which is why they are such an important learning tool,” she said.

Locating the garden near the school’s entrance will make it accessible to all, Marinelli said.

“We hope that community members, and especially those that are in need, come and take advantage and take things home with them,” he said.

Marinelli anticipates Miltonians tending to crops throughout the growing season and holding events en plein air. A long-term goal is to add an outdoor pizza oven as a source of revenue for the schools and a tool for local fundraisers.

The garden’s yield will make its way onto students’ plates during the summer meals program, and crops like squash will extend its season into winter months, Marinelli said. He hopes some of the new garden’s produce will also help fill shelves at the Milton Family Community Center’s food shelf.

Agan and Marinelli will work through the spring to finalize designs and prep for groundbreaking. Students will even have a say in design, Marinelli said, adding, “it will be their space in the end.”

“It’s a lot of work,” Agan said. “But it’s going to be exciting to see everything come to fruition.”